The American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, like all crocodilians, has temperature-dependent sex determination, in which the sex of an embryo is determined by the incubation temperature of the egg during a critical period of development. The lack of genetic differences between male and female alligators leaves open the question of how the genes responsible for sex determination and differentiation are regulated. Insight into this question comes from the fact that exposing an embryo incubated at male-producing temperature to estrogen causes it to develop ovaries. Because estrogen response elements are known to regulate genes over long distances, a contiguous genome assembly is crucial for predicting and understanding their impact. We present an improved assembly of the American alligator genome, scaffolded with in vitro proximity ligation (Chicago) data. We use this assembly to scaffold two other crocodilian genomes based on synteny. We perform RNA sequencing of tissues from American alligator embryos to find genes that are differentially expressed between embryos incubated at male- versus female-producing temperature. Finally, we use the improved contiguity of our assembly along with the current model of CTCF-mediated chromatin looping to predict regions of the genome likely to contain estrogen-responsive genes. We find that these regions are significantly enriched for genes with female-biased expression in developing gonads after the critical period during which sex is determined by incubation temperature. We thus conclude that estrogen signaling is a major driver of female-biased gene expression in the post-temperature sensitive period gonads.
© 2017 Rice et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.